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Contents: Causes of Terrorism

January 11, 2005

The Causes and Underlying Factors of Terrorism

To be effective in overcoming terrorism, we need to understand why it occurs. This is not because we empathise with the terrorists or because we want to give in to their demands, but simply because any effective strategy against terrorism requires knowing what motivates this form of violence against innocent civilians.

Thematic Subject Area I

Subject area co-ordinator

  • Louise Richardson (Ireland), Executive Dean of the Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University. Research interests include the roots of terrorism, conflict theory and terrorism, as well as state-sponsored terrorism. Has published extensively on these issues, as well as on the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Individual and Psychological Explanations of Terrorism
Working Group 1

The psychological make-up of individual terrorists and terrorist leaders can be an important factor in explaining their actions. This working group is concerned with what drives terrorists to commit violent acts, and how understanding their motivations can lead to a more effective response.

Working group co-ordinator

  • Jerrold Post (USA), professor of political psychology at George Washington University. Extensive career in psychological profiling for the U.S. government, mostly with the CIA. Author of numerous books, such as Political Paranoia: The Psycho-Politics of Hatred (Yale 1997).


Political Explanations
Working Group 2

Terrorism is politically motivated violence, and terrorists have exploited real as well as perceived political grievances. This working group examines the political causes of terrorism, and aims to identify if there are legitimate grievances which can be addressed.

Working group co-ordinator

  • Martha Crenshaw (USA), professor of government at Wesleyan University. She has written and edited numerous books on the issue of political terrorism. Her first article, “The Concept of Revolutionary Terrorism,” was published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution in 1972.


Economic explanations
Working Group 3

This working group surveys the economic factors that underlie and sustain terrorism. Most radical movements that espouse violence arise from broader political conflicts centred on the demands of disadvantaged groups. What role is played by economic factors, and how do they inter-play with extreme ideologies and repressive state policies? What influence can be attributed to globalisation?

Working group co-ordinator

  • Ted Robert Gurr (USA), distinguished university professor at the University of Maryland. Founder of the Polity project, tracking democratization worldwide, and the Minorities at Risk project, monitoring 300 communal groups in conflict. Books include Why Men Rebel (Princeton Press, 1970).


Religion and Religious Extremism
Working Group 4

Some of the most violent terrorist groups in recent years have presented religion as a justification for their actions. This working group investigates the role of religion as a cause of terrorism, and explores what steps can be taken to foster inter-religious dialogue, tolerance and understanding.

Working group co-ordinator

  • Mark Juergensmeyer (USA), professor of sociology at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Expert on religious violence, conflict resolution and politics. Author of Terror in the Mind of God: The Global Rise of Religious Violence (University of California Press 2003).


Cultural Explanations
Working Group 5

Terrorism is sometimes seen as a violent reaction to alien cultural values and influences. This working group deals with the question of how perceptions of cultural alienation and humiliation have contributed to the rise of international terrorism, and how these can be addressed.

Working group co-ordinator

  • Jessica Stern (USA), lecturer in public policy at Harvard University. Initially focused on the threat of nuclear smuggling and terrorism, she has recently carried out extensive research on religious militants from different cultures. Author of Terror in the Name of God (HarperCollins 2003).


With the collaboration ofSafe Democracy Foundation
Members of the Club de Madrid

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